In the first episode of a three-part series about living with disabilities, filmmaker James Robinson introduces Yvonne Shortt, a talented artist who is legally blind due to Retinitis pigmentosa, an optical disease that breaks down cells in the retina over time.
But unlike the stereotype of the blind living in a lightless world, Ms. Shortt, like most other legally blind people, lives a nuanced existence between those who see well and those who can’t see a thing. Ms. Shortt has retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes progressive loss of sight. She can see some things some of the time, depending on various factors, including the amount of ambient light, her distance from the object and the object’s location in her field of vision.
Shortt talks about how she discovered she had trouble seeing, how she switched careers to become a full-time artist, how she comes into a room, and how, with the support of her peers, she came to feel empowered walking down the street with a cane.
Yvonne’s refusal to use the white cane shifted when she joined a support group. “And this one amazing person, I told her my biggest fear, having to have a cane. As we were leaving, she put her cane in my hand. And she just held my arm here. There were people coming at us, a big group of people. And I just started whacking it on the floor. It was so amazing to have them just scatter to the right and left. I felt like Moses with the parting of the sea.
As with his documentary on stuttering, Robinson created a visualization that simulates how people with R.P. see the world. As noted, it’s a gradual loss of sight. Shortt understands her physical limitations but also finds that her sight has developed in other areas, particularly in her art.
In this short film, Mr. Robinson simulates what it’s like to be Ms. Shortt, navigating her world with progressively declining eyesight but also recognizing what she has gained even as she has lost something so precious.
Here are several of Shortt’s powerful pieces.
Robinson was inspired to do this series by his own experience with a disabling eye condition.